From Jacob Grandison’s three-point play on the game’s first possession to the full-team floor slap on the other end, it was all Illinois all night on Friday.
Illinois opened up postseason play in front of a pleased pro-Illini crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium with a dominant 90-68 win over Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament’s quarterfinals. The Illini will now advance to the conference tournament’s weekend for the first time since 2010.
“I was excited (to see the fans). It always gives you extra juice,” said junior Ayo Dosunmu after the game. “It felt like a playoff game, really.”
For those that had not yet jumped on the Illini bandwagon, Illinois gave them plenty of reason to buy stock Friday night.
“It’s always good, that first game, to set the tone,” Dosunmu said.
With the energy provided by the fans in Indianapolis, the Illini (21-6, 16-4 Big Ten) were firing out of a cannon from the tip — they set the tone. Ayo Dosunmu’s speed and Kofi Cockburn’s physical presence down low was too much for the Scarlet Knights, forcing Steve Pikiell’s squad into foul trouble before the game reached its second media timeout.
“Got off to a great start today,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “I thought our defensive intensity to open the game was outstanding.”
Rutgers eventually fouled out two players and had a third ejected when it was all said and done on Friday night.
It was also a balanced attack for Illinois offensively. Dosunmu led the way with a game-high 23 points, including 14 in the first half. The All-Big Ten First-Teamer added six assists and five rebounds.
“We have a vibe where we’re connected,” Dosunmu said. “We’ve been having that vibe for the last month, really, where it got to its peak.”
The Illini lost to Rutgers (15-11, 10-10) earlier this season, 91-88, in Piscataway back in December. This time around, Illinois was able to avenge the previous loss and keep chopping wood.
“On to the next,” Underwood said.
This Illini team isn't content with beating Rutgers in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tourney, they have eight more games left to win, the next one being Saturday.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Underwood said. “This is where Illinois should be.”
- Brad Underwood took over the Illini in 2017. That year the Illini were the No. 13 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. This year they are the No. 2 seed after leading the conference in wins.
- The Illini have their highest seeding in the Big Ten tournament since 2009.
- Illinois outrebounded Rutgers by a hefty margin, 44-19. In fact, the Illini had almost as many offensive rebounds (17) as the Scarlet Knights had in the entire contest.
- Kofi Cockburn (18 points, 12 rebounds) picked up his 16th double-double of the season, which ranks first in the Big Ten and second nationally. It was the big man’s first double-double since the Illini’s Feb. 16 win over Northwestern.
- Ayo Dosunmu picked up 23 points, and was in double-digits for the 39th straight game. This game also marks his 13th time with 20 or more points this season.
- Freshman Adam Miller poured in 12 points, his 11th time scoring in double-digits this season.
- Ron Harper Jr. kept Rutgers somewhat within striking distance with a team-leading 21 points. He scored a game high 28-points in these teams’ matchup earlier this season and picked up his seventh game with 20-plus points.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
This crossover is a thing of beauty.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kofi would’ve postponed the whole tournament until they found a new rim if he hung on any longer.
TWEET OF THE GAME
Brad: "I'm tickled for the fans to get to be here"— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) March 13, 2021
HE SAID IT
Dosunmu on the Illini’s goals: “I think we just showed we want a Big Ten championship really bad.”
Illinois will take on the winner of Friday night’s quarterfinal between No. 5 Iowa and Wisconsin. The semifinal matchup is scheduled for 25 minutes after Saturday’s first semifinal (Michigan vs. Ohio State), which tips off at 12 p.m. CT.
The Illini are a combined 3-0 against the Hawkeyes (1-0) and the Badgers (2-0) this season.